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Window light is a good baseline to learn from. I apprenticed for two years with Zucker, whose book Brian recommended. He did all his posed formal wedding shots via window light and reflector, and everything else with a pair of direct flashes back then in the early 70s.
The idea to use window light was unconventional at the time for weddings but brilliantly solved the logistical problem of hauling and setting up a heavy pack/head lighting system. Changes in equipment and people's schedules don't make window light practical for wedding formals today, but it's still a great baseline for learning lighting because in most situations it's the look you will try to duplicate with artificial sources.
From observing Zucker work with window light I learned how to flatter a face with camera angle and lighting pattern via window light: what clues to look for when deciding what angle to pick and what parts of the face to highlight. Once you have a conscious understanding of the mostly sub-conscious clues those two factors create in natural light to flatter a face creating the same flattering artificial lighting is simply a process of duplicating the same clues by using the same vectors for the key and fill relative to the face and to the extent possible creating the same character as the indirect north window light with modifiers, bouncing, etc.
If you already have location hot shoe flash gear the baseline I'd suggest is to first work via the window to master the concepts of how to flatter a face with camera angle (full / oblique / profile) then try to duplicate the same look via facial angles and key / fill vectors with your location flash gear. The flash lit shots will not have the same character as the soft window lighting but the lighting, if skillfully placed on the face with same flattering facial angles will create 3D modeling and a similar perceptual / emotional reaction to the face in the photo.
One of the more important practical lessons I learned from Zucker was how to change the character of the lighting with control of fill. Zucker pioneered the use of dual flash at receptions with bracket mounted fill over the camera. The problem with any single flash solution is independent control of shadow tone and overall impression of "hard" and "soft" the shadow tone clues create in the mind of the viewer in a photo. Zucker understood, via studio lighting training from his mentor Zeltsman, how the character of lighting is influenced by fill.
Zeltsman in his studio bounced his direct flash reflectors off the back wall of the studio to create a wrap-around spill fill effect like skylight. Zucker realized that from the POV of the camera a direct flash coming from a bracket over the camera looks very similar and produces the same net fill effect on the subject's face by reaching everything the camera sees. His "candid" style was created by careful selection of facial angles when shooting with precise placement of off camera flash 45 degrees from the nose and 45 degrees above the eye, similar to the lighting in the window lit shots. The character of the lighting of the candids was more like stage lighting but the appearance of the faces was similar and flattering in all the shots in the album. Zucker didn't get famous by being off charts creative and innovative in ways considered artistic, he just understood the few simple tricks it takes with facial angles and lighting to flatter average non-symmetrical faces in both studio and candid "snap" shots at wedding receptions..
When a key light is off to the side creating shadow on the face with direct flash or any modifier the overall character of the the lighting can be altered by changing the shadow tone via the centered fill. Keep the shadows light and open with the fill and all other things being equal the results will look more flattering than the same pattern with darker under filled shadows. It works because of the way the brain interprets the shadow tone clues.
By the time you master the window baseline and try to duplicate it with a pair of hot shoe flashes you'll better understand the limitations of the flash gear you already own but may not be using now to its full potential. At the point you use hot shoe flash to its full potential it's not so much a matter of not being able to duplicate the light from the window with umbrellas and bounce a lot of spill off the wall, but it being a PITA logistically due to slow recycle times, power limits and the size and type of modifiers that are convenient to use with them.
At that point you also need to ask how much you'll use a set of studio lights if you buy them. You might find you can do most of what to do now with what you already have. Getting good results is more about knowing how to pose and set lights than what is used to supply the light.
In terms of results with a window there are limited in key pattern and fill options. Zucker's style was characterized by many as being boring and redundant. But after shooting with window light you'll realize there's only one really flattering lighting option: turning the face 45 degrees towards the window to create a "mask" of highlights on the front of it. Once the face is lit that way and you walk around with the camera there are three "prime" angles that make the face look balanced and symmetrical in that lighting: full (nose straight at camera - ears the same size), oblique (far cheekbone seen in profile), and profile (face cut exactly in half). There are also few options for lighting the background since it's light comes from the window and falls off. Fill options with a reflector are also limited. Ideally the fill needs to hit the front of the face (where the window creates shadows) but it's in the way when placed optimally. So as a compromise it must be moved to the side out of the way, which doesn't produce optimal results.
With one studio light and reflector you have all the same limitations and logistical issues with reflector and fill placement, but more options for positioning the key light relative to face and camera angle. You can do a centered "butterfly" pattern (flattering on slim naturally symmetrical faces in full face views), loop patterns (key light slightly off center), and broad lighting (face turned away from key light) which aren't easily done with window light unless you have a high window or skylight).
With two lights as key and fill you will have more convenient control of the lighting ratio. You can also use one flash as key + reflector and the other as "hair" rim lighting which adds another element to the illusion of 3D. There's would still only limited control of background via anticipating the fall off when selecting the background tone. You can also deploy three lights as key, background and rim light. In a small space like yours there will be so much spill bouncing around as fill all you will need is a reflector to nuance it.
Adding the third light, which you'll find a way to justify after investing in two, will give you the options to use key and fill lights in front, plus a hairlight, or key + reflector on the subject, hairlight and light a small white background.
Adding a fourth light will allow easy control of all the creative variables via light power settings: key:fill ration on the face, balance of the rim-lighting, and tone of background to create foreground/background separation on darker backgrounds. But if you want to shoot full length on white backgrounds you'll want a 5th light: key, fill, rim, and 2 background lights on opposite sides.
As you add more lights you need more stands, triggers, modifiers, etc. so the caveat here is that before you dip your toe into the studio lighting pool by buying that first studio light be aware of the swirling vortex on the deep end that will suck the dollars out of the retirement fund
I bought a set of four Alien Bee AB800 studio lights and various modifiers back in 2004, but not shooting for hire I don't have occasion to use them much. When you are a hobbyist there is not a high demand for formal portraits and after the first few sessions the in-house model will run and hide when they see you setting up the lights. I wound up using the lights for the Christmas card portrait or when a friend needed a headshot or family portrait, but even then more often than not I'll use the two speedlights with diffusers or bounce because it's easily. I don't regret buying the lights because they allow me to do things I couldn't with two speedlights, but it wasn't what I'd call a good investment.
Edited on Jan 15, 2013 at 02:38 PM · View previous versions